There is something appealing about an all-in-one desktop PC. Its uncomplicated, more like an appliance than a computer and easy to set up. It saves space too, and it looks neat and tidy.
ViewSonic, a company known until now mainly as a maker of computer monitors and TVs, has jumped into the all-in-one market with its new VPC100 ($495-$688), a sleek and stylish-looking product that could be exactly what some small firms need. Or not.
The VPC100 has an impressive array of bells and whistles for the price: built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking (as well as wired gigabit Ethernet), integrated webcam, microphone and stereo audio, four USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 flash memory card reader and a vertically-mounted tray-load DVD drive.
Its best feature, not surprisingly given the companys pedigree, is the monitor, an 18.5-inch color TFT Active Matrix LCD with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels (i.e. widescreen), contrast ratio of 1000:1 and a brightness rated at 300 cd/m2.
These are not top-of-category specs, but decidedly better than average. The image is bright and clear with good blacks, and its especially impressive when viewing graphics.
Text sometimes looks less than crisp, which we attribute to too-bright-and-contrasty default monitor settings. While the settings are adjustable, the user manual doesnt explain how. (Text looks somewhat better when you switch from standard screen font smoothing to Microsofts ClearType.)
The real problem with the VPC100 for many potential customers though not all is that its underpowered. Its really a netbook dressed up as a desktop all-in-one. The processor is the single-core Intel 1.6GHz Atom N270, which is found in some netbooks. The unit has only 1 GB of RAM, which can be upgraded to 2GB, and the hard drive is 160GB.
The VPC100 ships with Windows XP Home Edition, a version that requires relatively little memory and processing power. It would not be possible to run Vista on such an underpowered machine, but it might be possible to run the new Windows 7 (due out in October.) ViewSonic makes no such claim, however.
In our tests, the VPC100 performed well in many computing tasks such as e-mail, Web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets and other typical office chores.
We even tested it streaming supposedly HD video from network Web sites (over our high-speed cable service and the Wi-Fi network). It worked reasonably well, with only the occasional blip or hesitation in the video, which could as easily have been network-related.
Predictably, the performance begins to degrade when you have many programs running at once or try to use the VPC100 for processing-intensive tasks such as applying special effects filters to large image files or editing video.
The Viewsonic VPC100 Desktop PC
(Click for larger image).
Not being able to efficiently run several applications concurrently is the more serious shortcoming. Anyone shopping for a computer to use for high-end media editing tasks would likely never consider such a product anyway.
Who would or should consider the VPC100?
Where It Fits
ViewSonic positions the VPC100as being ideal for call centers, libraries, school computer labs, home desktops and anywhere else space is at a premium. We wouldnt place this product in high-traffic, high-use areas such as computer labs and libraries. The build quality, especially the keyboard, does not seem robust enough for such environments.
Small businesses might consider it for a high-visibility receptionists station where the person on duty needs a PC for simple tasks such as word processing, e-mail and Web browsing. The VPC100s good looks and compactness will be an asset, and its lack of power wouldnt be a serious drawback.
It could also be a good solution for a teleworkers home office where space is at a premium and computing requirements light.
Given the elegance and compactness of the design piano black finish, molded corners, nice proportions its disappointing that the VPC100 ships with wired PS2 mouse and keyboard, which means messy cables across the desk.
Wireless mouse and keyboard would have added to the neat-and-tidy appeal. But in fairness, despite its glossy looks, this is an entry-level product, and priced as such. Wireless input devices would have added to the cost.
The keyboard features full-size QWERTY keys and number pad but is quite compact. Viewsonic wastes no space on the top surface, and it uses slightly under-size function and special keys. (Special keys include media play/pause, fast forward, rewind, volume up and down and dedicated browser, browser search, browser favorites and e-mail keys.) When not in use, the keyboard can snuggle up against the monitor/CPU stand leaving the desk clear for other activities.
A slot-load DVD drive would also have been more in keeping with the products design elegance. As it is, you have to feel around for the tray release on the right-hand edge of the monitor when loading or unloading a disk. But again, that would have added to the cost.
Our out-of-the-box experience with the VPC100 was excellent. Hardly surprising, set-up is a breeze. Plug the mouse and keyboard into the PS2 ports on the back, attach and plug in the power cable in, turn it on and it works. Thats the beauty of an all-in-one.
If youre looking for a good-looking, space-saving product for light computer use, the VPC 100 could fill the bill. If your firm has already standardized on Vista (or is looking forward to Windows 7), think twice. If youre shopping for a computer to do heavy lifting, steer clear.
Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte .
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